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SECTION I.—The fatal Effects of an illicit Importation of Slaves into the British Colonies.

If there remained in this country any difference of opinion on the subject of the slave trade, in one point at least we should be unanimous. The abolition, to produce any salutary effects, must be a reformation in practice, as well as in law.

Let it be supposed, that negroes from Africa are clandestinely brought into our sugar islands, and there held in slavery, and it will be plain, that, to the extent of this practice at least, the abolition laws are worse than useless.

The same crimes are committed, the same miseries are inflicted in Africa, and a still greater destruction of human life must take place on the passage, not only from the circuity which may be necessary to elude detection and seizure, but from the absence of those legislative regulations which mitigated the letharious horrors of the voyage, while the commerce was permitted by law. The smuggler, having to risk the forfeiture of his ship as well as cargo, in a prohibited trade, will take care that the tonnage is as scantily proportioned as possible to the number of the captives on board. He has now the temptation of reducing by that means, not only the expense, but the legal perils of the adventure, in their proportions to his possible gains.

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There is also less chance than before of his being restrained in such barbarous practices, either by humanity or prudence. The British slave trader cannot now be a man whom prejudice, early habit, and reputable example, may have seduced into crimes repugnant to his general principles and feelings, and who may therefore be expected to soften as much as possible, in their execution, the cruel methods of confinement and coercion which are essential to the trade; neither can we expect from him that cautious and calculating regard to self-interest, which may sometimes have supplied, in such points of conduct, the want of humanity, in a prudent and experienced trader.

The poor Africans who may now be carried into slavery by British hands, must be committed to men not only hardened by the habits of oppression, but reckless of public shame, contemptuous of all authority, human or divine, and addicted to the most desperate hazards, for the sake of lawless gain.

It is, in a word, by felons, by the same description of characters that break into our houses at midnight, or rob us on the highway, that Africans smuggled by British subjects must now be dragged from their native shores, and carried across the Atlantic.

That one of the consequences will be increased severity of treatment, especially in respect of the close and crowded confinement on board, does not rest upon conjecture. It is fully attested by experience. The contraband slave traders of America notoriously crowd their ships beyond any example to be found in the same commerce while it was allowed by their laws.

Several shocking instances of this inhumanity have come under the cognizance of our prize courts. The same dreadful distinctions also have marked the cases of ships under Portuguese and Spanish colors, which have been proved, or reasonably presumed, to belong to British or American smugglers.

These, however, are not the only, nor the worst, evils which would flow from a contraband importation into our colonies. It would be fatal to one of the dearest hopes of abolitionists, the melioration of the treatment of those unfortunate fellow-creatures, our W. Indian slaves.

As it is impossible suddenly to break their fetters, without danger of calamitous consequences, not only to their masters but themselves, we must suffer them to remain, for some considerable period, in their present state of bondage. The most extreme and abject slavery that ever degraded and cursed mankind, must yet continue to be the reproach of the freest and happiest empire that ever the sun beheld.

But who is there so dead to the impulse of human sympathy, who so regardless of the claims of justice and mercy, who so unconscious of his duties as an Englishman, a Christian, and a Man, as not to deplore that cruel necessity, and to desire to give to its duration the narrowest limit that humanity itself will allow?

Here there neither is, nor ever has been, any controversy in Parliament since the subject was first brought to its notice. All have professed to regard colonial slavery as an evil which we were bound to terminate, as a reproach which we were called on to wipe off, though the nature of the case would not permit us to do so in any but a slowly progressive course.

The advocates of a gradual abolition, and the few who refused to prescribe any term to the slave trade, professed themselves to be as earnest in their desire to reform, by all safe means, and ultimately to abolish the slavery of our colonies, as Mr. Wilberforce himself. The only questions were, whether an immediate abolition of the African slave trade was the best mean to that desirable end; and whether a temporary continuance of the trade was not even necessary to prepare the means of mitigating the labor, preserving the numbers, and ultimately improving into freedom the state of the colonial negroes.

The speeches of eminent statesmen, the writings of the colonial party, the votes and addresses of Parliament, and the official correspondence of ministers with the colonial governors, might all be appealed to in proof that such has always been the unanimity of sentiment on this very interesting head.

What are the means then that can be devised for the attainment of a reformation so dear to the wishes, and so necessary to the honor, of our -country?

They can only be of two general kinds; compulsory or persuasive. Re"garding the end as one which Parliament is bound, in some way, to attain, it must either be accomplished by direct legislation, accompanied with coercive sanctions, or by such parliamentary measures as may incline those who have the power of meliorating the lot of the slaves, to engage willingly in that beneficent work.

The mode of direct legislation, by Act of Parliament, would be obviously attended with great difficulties, and was therefore by all parties declined, or at least postponed. It was the unanimous opinion that the indirect course was the best, as far as the work was to be prosecuted by any parliamentary means. But on a subordinate question, the difference of opinion was great. It was thought by the party which opposed the Abolition of the slave trade, that without that great measure, and without any statute directly acting on the colonial system of slavery, the necessary reformation might be attained, and the slave trade itself even effectually suppressed, by influencing the assemblies to reform their own laws, and to pass acts for improving the moral and civil state of their slaves. For this purpose it was thought enough to communicate the sense of Parliament by means of addresses to the Crown, and to obtain in consequence, official recommendations from the Crown to the Assemblies.

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On the other side, the advocates for an immediate Abolition maintained, that while the slave trade subsisted, the colonial assemblies would never seriously and effectually engage in the desired work of reformation.

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Nor was it to Acts of Assembly in any case, that abolitionists professed chiefly to look for the melioration of the state of the slaves. They did not decline indeed, on the contrary they earnestly desired, the enactment of meliorating laws. In some cases, the existing oppression arises not from the abuse of a master's powers, but from the direct and immediate operation of the colonial laws themselves; and therefore, a repeal of those laws is the effectual and only relief. But those evils which constitute, beyond all proportion, the largest share of the miseries of slavery, flow from misadministration of discretionary private powers, with which the master himself and his agents are necessarily intrusted, wherever that relation subsists; and to control the exercise of these by public laws, is as impossible as it would be to prevent by the interposition of the courts in this country, evils that flow from the wickedness, the imprudence, or negligence of parents; or to heal the infelicities of conjugal life.

In all such cases, the interference of the magistrate, unless directed to a separation of the parties, is, for the most part, not only impotent but mischievous. It inflames, rather than mollifies, the bad passions whose action it can but for a moment restrain.

For these reasons, it has always been felt by the best-informed friends of that oppressed race, that the bad treatment of the slaves in our colonies can never be effectually prevented by the direct operation of a law, whether passed by their interior legislatures or by Parliament, that is to be enforced by the civil magistrate. The laws to which alone they have looked with confidence for that purpose, are such as will operate in the mind of the master; inclining him powerfully for his own sake, to promote the happiness, and improve the condition of his slaves, and to submit to any present sacrifices that may be necessary for their conservation and native increase.

Such are the laws for the abolition of the African slave trade. To them their promoters have confidently looked, not only for the deliverance of Africa from the horrors of that traffic, as far as Gr. Britain can effect it, but for the future progressive deliverance of our colonial slaves from a most cruel and destructive bondage.

Accused by their opponents of meditating a general emancipation, they denied the charge. But it was denied only in the insidious meaning of the imputation itself. They did not aim at an emancipation to be effected by insurrection in the W. Indies, or to be ordained precipitately by positive law but they never denied, and scrupled not to avow, that they did look forward to a future extinction of slavery in the colonies, to be accomplished by the same happy means which formerly put an end to it in England; namely, by a benign, though insensible revolution in opinions and manners, by the encouragement of particular manumissions, and the progressive melioration of the condition of the slaves, till it should slide insensibly into general freedom. They looked in short to an emancipation, of which not the slaves, but the masters, should be the willing instruments or authors.

In regarding the abolition of the slave trade as a first, an essential, and even a singly-sufficient mean to this beneficent end, they relied not upon untried theories, nor solely upon the known aud universal springs of human action, but on all the experience that history records on this subject. In every country in which slavery has been mitigated in its kind, or ceased to exist after having once extensively prevailed, the supply of foreign slaves has first been cut off.

Till the almost universal extent of the Roman empire had precluded the former copious influx of vendible bondmen, captives in foreign wars, the slavery of Rome was not softened or retrenched; but, on the contrary, became progressively more cruel and extensive. But when, under Augustus and his early successors, prisoners of war became scarce, the Roman masters began of necessity to bend their attention to the care and preservation of the slaves which they already possessed.

Their condition was soon after materially improved by law. Christianity, under Constantine and his successors, hastened the process by its benevolent spirit; but the reformation was already begun. Stipendiary service was progressively substituted for servile labor in the towns; the modified slavery of the adscripti gleba succeeded to it in the country; manumissions became extremely frequent; and before the dissolution of the empire, the number of persons held in pure slavery became comparatively small, though the institution itself was never expressly abolished.

In modern Europe the case was similar. The practice of reducing a conquered people to slavery, and of selling prisoners of war, had every where ended, before the slave laws were reformed, or the servile condition was materially softened in practice or reduced in its extent.

In England, not only the sale of prisoners, but every other source of bondage, except that of procreation by bondmen, had ceased in law before the slavery, or villeinage, once comprising so large a portion of our English ancestors, began to decline.

A case perfectly in point has not arisen since the opprobrious renovation of slavery in the Western World. The African markets have been too recently, and too imperfectly and uncertainly shut against some of the colonies before supplied from them, to afford a specimen; but it is undeniable, that the colonies which have had for a century or more the largest and most regular supplies from Africa, are those in which the treatment of slaves, and their condition by law, are notoriously the worst.


The Spanish colonies, from the want of capital or enterprise in their merchants, and from the jealousy of their government, have had in general an extremely scanty and precarious supply; and there it is that negro slavery is mitigated in the greatest degree, and manumissions are by far the most frequent. But in the island of Trinidad, Spain, by opening a free port to foreign merchants, and encouraging anxiously the importation of negroes, obtained a plentiful slave market; and there, in consequence, her humane

1 See Gibboy's Rom. Hist. vol. i. cap. 2, and Hume's Essay on Population.

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